Viet Nam News
HÀ NỘI — Nguyễn Hữu Thắng and his players are expected to overcome Việt Nam’s misfortune of losing in the semi-finals at previous editions after being on top in the group round at the ASEAN Football Federation Cup.
On four previous occasions, Việt Nam entered the last-four stage as the group leaders and carried the high hopes of the nation with them. However, all four times they returned home with humiliating losses. It was believed the team were jinxed.
This year, Việt Nam did even better, winning three out of three matches and getting the maximum nine points. They dominated Group B and will play arch-rivals Indonesia in the knockout stage today.
It is even more difficult for Việt Nam, as according to statistics, the two sides have met seven times in this Cup’s history and Việt Nam has won once, drawn four times and suffered two losses.
The only 3-2 win was 20 years ago in the third-place playoff game.
In the most recent match in the 2014 edition, Việt Nam under coach Toshiya Miura tied against Indonesia under Alfred Riedl 2-2.
Prior to this Cup, Việt Nam tied Indonesia 2-2 before beating them 3-2 in a two-leg friendly match in October.
Coach Thắng knows there is a huge difference between a friendly and a Cup game but he is quietly confident that he can get the right results in the first-leg match on away ground at the Pakansari Stadium.
“We are confident,” Thắng said. “The last match in the group was very difficult as we rested some players only to lose one just minutes into the game. I thought we played really well under the conditions and we won the game with 10 men.
“We have met twice (last month) so I think tomorrow’s match can go either way, although I know Indonesia are very difficult to play against on their home turf. Both sides will make it a good semis,” he said in the pre-match briefing held yesterday.
"The more they play the better they look. They got through an almost closed door to enter this round. They have very good players. We need to limit their strong points in tomorrow’s game.”
The former national captain has formed a strong bond with the players under him and this was obvious in the interactions off the pitch.
And it was largely due to this reason that Việt Nam were able to win all their matches in the group stage – a first in the team’s history.
The only problem with the team is defender Trương Đình Luật, who has a red card. But Thắng has his super substitutes Đinh Tiến Thành and Bùi Tiến Dũng, who can take charge at that position, and they will prove their ability in the upcoming 90 minutes.
“I told my player ‘never give up’. They can lose their focus only when the referee blows the final whistle,” Thắng said.
Captain Lê Công Vinh is also cautious about the game.
“We have nine points and rank first in the group, but we still made mistakes. These should be limited in the semis, where Indonesia will be far more competitive compared with what they were in the friendlies.
“Việt Nam have suffered several times by losing at this juncture. We, players, do not want it to happen again. I believe we have real strength to enter the final. We will make our dream come true,” he said.
On the other side, Indonesia’s Riedl, who enjoyed three spells at the helm of the Việt Nam team, said his team would play attacking football with a high tempo.
"Việt Nam are a good team, they don’t have any notable weakness," Riedl said on the Indonesian Football Association’s website.
According to the coach, playing a home game first is extremely crucial.
"When you play a first leg match on home ground you have to avoid conceding any goal to keep the chance of progressing," he said.
Riedl has claimed Việt Nam are the second best team in the event.
“In my opinion, they are the second best team in Southeast Asia behind Thailand,” Riedl said.
“They are an experienced team with talented players. Their coach, who is my former captain of the national team, is doing a good job there.
“It will be very difficult for us to advance to the final. They might be a little bit better than us, but they will have to prove it.
Indonesia have never won the AFF Cup, while Việt Nam bagged their one and only title in 2008.
In the other semis, both "Thai Zico" Kiatisuk Senamuang and German Gerd Zeise are confident about winning their match on Sunday.
Senamuang has called on the War Elephants to get the job done in Yangon against what will surely be a full-house Myanmar crowd.
Meanwhile, Zeise said his team would match Thailand: “If there’s anything which the team showed in the win over Malaysia, it was that our players have the quality to be competitive.
“But having said that, I also hope that the fans be realistic and not pressure the players. It is pressure enough already playing at this level at home. So I hope the fans rally behind us.” — VNS